Yarmouth business hopes to lock up food producers

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YARMOUTH — A local business owner has designed a compact food production unit to be unveiled at Maine International Trade Center’s Trade Day 2018 on May 18. 

Dirigo Food Safety’s The Locker is one of six products competing in the New Product Global Showcase. The others are from Portland’s Bristol Seafood, Lewiston-based Rogue Wear, Westbrook’s Planet Dog, Caron Engineering of Wells and Yale Cordage/Resin Fibers of Saco. 

Dirigo Food Safety’s mission is to ensure safe food production by offering food safety training, consulting and “crisis management.” 

Dr. Michele Pfannenstiel, president and CEO of the company, started the consulting group in 2013 after serving in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, where she learned the food safety skills she now provides to producers and processors across the country.

She brought the business to 189 Main St. when she and her family moved to Yarmouth in January 2017. 

The Locker is Dirigo’s first tangible product for sale. It comes fully assembled in a 40-by-8-foot refrigerated container and includes three months of consultation with Dirigo, although Pfannenstiel said she envisions working with buyers much longer.

“We’re really there with people as they build their business,” she said, noting that some have created similar spaces for “grow operations,” but Dirigo is the first to offer the “whole package with safety plans written in the training.”

Inside The Locker is a refrigerated work space, a carcass rail system, tables for cutting, a drop-down desk, utility and sewage hookups, a boot change area and a production space with tables and outlets.

It also has space to accommodate processing equipment, such as a meat smoker, cryovac – used for food packaging – or a small oven. 

The prototype of The Locker, which is patent-pending, was built more than a year ago. In a few weeks, it will be delivered to a farm in Bristol, Pfannenstiel said. A second will soon be shipped to the Caribbean and used for meat production.

The idea came to mind, Pfannenstiel said, while having discussions with her clients across the globe.  

“I began to notice my clients have a really, really hard time finding food manufacturing space,” she said on April 23. “Once you’ve outgrown a commercial space, it’s hard to find a space to scale up … especially when most can’t afford to invest millions of dollars in a building for any sort of food production.”

As an entrepreneur herself, Pfannenstiel said she understands what challenges come with starting a business.

“What I have seen in the decade I’ve been working in the local food industry is that most folks have not defined their supply and demand before they commit to building a building,” she said. “The Locker is there so you can start small … (and to) help people understand all the complexities of going into regulated production.”

Each unit will be designed and built as orders come in. Pfannenstiel said buyers can expect to pay around $200,000 for all needed equipment included, delivery and site preparation. 

“(The Locker’s) position in the marketplace is so important,” Pfannenstiel said. “It helps businesses be scalable and profitable.”

The six companies selected to participate in May’s showcase, to be held at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, will be competing to win “Best in Show” votes from attendees at the event.

“The six Maine companies selected by the jury range from experienced exporters through those new to international markets,” MITC President Wade Merritt said in a news release. “All of these manufacturers have an innovative new product that is a key element in their strategy to increase export sales.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Dirigo Food Safety’s first “tangible” product, The Locker, is one of six products that will be introduced at Maine International Trade Center’s Trade Day 2018 on May 18. 

Created to allow businesses to expand their food production space without spending a fortune, the inside of The Locker can be modified for various types of food production. 

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